Publish content — Whether it’s a blog, editorial, or other digital/print/broadcast material it is important to be recognized within your sector and to have your opinions shown for people to evaluate. Content must be valid/interesting and must also be viewed. Early in my golf career I began giving my input to golf equipment writers regarding our Titleist equipment. We ended up creating as Technical Advisory Panel for Golf Digest and I later became Technical Editor where I had my own editorial content. If people see your name enough and what you have to say is meaningful then they will continue to seek your opinion.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Art Chou.
Art Chou is the GM–North America for Rapsodo, Inc. Rapsodo is a sports analytics company that uses computer vision and machine learning to help athletes maximize their performance.
Art is also the co-founder and Director of Stadia Ventures, a sports innovation hub for entrepreneurs, industry partners and investors. Stadia invests in mentors and manages sports startups, while also acting as an innovation partner for major sports brands, teams, and organizations.
His prior positions include SVP of Product for Rawlings, President of Pixl Golf, Director of Golf Club R&D at Titleist and Technical Editor for Golf Digest. He holds degrees in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University and helped launch the Rawlings Sport Business Management program at Maryville University (St. Louis), where he now teaches classes in Sports Entrepreneurship.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I am the General Manager of North America for Rapsodo, Inc. Rapsodo is a sports analytics company that uses computer vision and machine learning to help athletes maximize their performance. Our customers include all 30 MLB teams and 90% of NCAA D1 baseball programs. Our golf launch monitor technology is used in over 50,000 locations globally.
I am also the co-founder and Director of Stadia Ventures, a sports innovation hub and early seed venture fund for entrepreneurs, industry partners and investors. Stadia invests in, mentors and manages sports startups, while also acting as an innovation partner for major sports brands, teams, and organizations.
My prior positions include SVP of Product for Rawlings, President of Pixl Golf, Director of Golf Club R&D at Titleist and Technical Editor for Golf Digest. I holds degrees in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University and helped launch the Rawlings Sport Business Management program at Maryville University (St. Louis), where I now teach classes in Sports Entrepreneurship.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I have been in the world of Sports Technology and Innovation for over 30 years and was directly responsible for building the R&D and Innovation capabilities for two major sports brands (Titleist and Rawlings). At Stadia Ventures, we review over 400 sports tech startups each year to select ten companies to invest in through our network of over 500 sports industry executives; we literally crowd source the industry expertise to determine the sports tech companies of tomorrow.
At Rapsodo we are focused on democratizing the availability and impact of performance-enhancing data. What was only available to the peak of the pyramid is now being delivered to everyone in straightforward, actionable bites. The data itself is becoming ubiquitous; the challenge is simplifying it and explaining what you can do with it. In less than five years we have built a company that is integral to the baseball industry following this approach and will continue to apply this to other sports in the future.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One interesting story is the way I got my first break to enter the sports industry. I was a 26-year-old engineer who was putting together his own golf clubs for fun. I saw an ad for “Golf Club Engineer” from Titleist; I wanted to apply but not by just sending in my resume. This was pre-internet, so I asked a friend who had played college golf if he knew anyone at Titleist. After a little bit of digging on his end he gave me the message that the guy to talk to at Titleist is Wally Uihlein. I proceed to dial the 800 number for Titleist and ask for Wally Uihlein. I get transferred to his office before getting transferred to the R&D department where I start a conversation that ultimately ends up in an interview and job offer. Only after I started working there did I learn that Wally Uihlein is the President and CEO of Titleist. So many little positive breaks happened for someone who was bold/stupid enough to cold call the CEO for an entry level job. It taught me the lesson that you can only plan things so far and that a lot of life is luck, timing, and just taking advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My second year at Titleist I was sent to test putters at a European PGA Tour event in England. I had prototype putters that I was testing and occasionally giving out to players for feedback. The Titleist Tour rep set me up on the practice green of the event where I would approach players for their input.
That day happened to be the pro-am portion of the event so the practice green was filled with both pros and amateurs. I was only targeting feedback from the pros and was trying my best to avoid amateurs. However, a middle-aged man with white hair and plus-fours (knickers) approached me and asked me if he could try one of my putters. I replied, “I’m sorry sir, but these putters are only for the professionals”. He looked at me, smiled, stuck out his hand and said,” Christy O’Connor, Jr. Pleased to meet you.” I immediately turned white as I realized that I had just mistook one of the recent heroes of the European Ryder cup team for a rank amateur.
Christy could not have been nicer about it as I apologized profusely (from the US, don’t know the European players, etc.) but it was a major rookie error. In hindsight I had not prepared enough by studying the player roster. I also should have anticipated the pro-am difficulties and sought help from the Titleist rep who knew all of the players. And finally, in the event that you are posed with a question that you don’t know the answer it is never a good idea to assume an answer and just go with it. I treat the unknown a little more delicately ever since.
In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is someone who is viewed as expert who can provide insight and wisdom to a certain audience. A thought leader has the potential to reach a very large group of people — both those who are interested in an industry, as well as those already well versed in this space. Whereas a typical leader is someone who is also respected and can share wisdom, but reaches a smaller group of people as they might be less known throughout the industry.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
It’s important to invest time and resources into growing thought leaders as they can open doors to business opportunities and have the potential to create meaningful relationships with other decision makers within the industry. Thought leaders that can speak to a brand or company to provide credibility so that your brand is able to grow to its greatest potential.
In addition, at this later point in my career I believe that is important to “pay it forward” by helping future leaders learn from my past experiences.
Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Successful thought leaders have trust within their community and are continuing to reach new audiences who are looking for direction. This can open doors to business opportunities and investments being made, if you’re able to reach certain groups of people.
Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Have a meaningful point of view /Willingness to share the big picture — The content of what you say is critical to being considered a thought leader. There is no substitute for having an educated opinion that your industry/sector finds valuable. You must be willing to take a broader view of your sector, often beyond what your official company position is. You must also be willing to share an opinion with the public; some insight that isn’t obvious. This, also, sometimes goes against the traditional corporate mentality of never disclosing anything outside of the organization. My original superiors at Titleist did not want me to speak to the media too often. At the time our golf club capabilities (my department) were not as accomplished as our golf ball division. I proposed that by raising the exposure level of our golf club expertise we would enhance our business and brand; this led to our successful relationship with Golf Digest.
- Publish content — Whether it’s a blog, editorial, or other digital/print/broadcast material it is important to be recognized within your sector and to have your opinions shown for people to evaluate. Content must be valid/interesting and must also be viewed. Early in my golf career I began giving my input to golf equipment writers regarding our Titleist equipment. We ended up creating as Technical Advisory Panel for Golf Digest and I later became Technical Editor where I had my own editorial content. If people see your name enough and what you have to say is meaningful then they will continue to seek your opinion.
- Speaking engagements — Participating in conferences/panels that focus on your sector is important due to the focused attention on your subject matter. Presenting papers and participating in panel discussions are critical to develop a reputation for insightful thinking. From the 2nd World Scientific Congress of Golf in 1990 to the Sporttechie State of the Industry conference in 2019 I have presented at numerous conferences in the world of sports and technology.
- Industry network/associations — Involvement in industry trade associations and events provides access to how the industry operates and makes key decisions while also building bridges with the influencers guiding those decisions. While at Rawlings I served on the board of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) that governed baseball (batting) and football helmets, among other equipment. During this time, I spearheaded the formation of the Football Equipment committee of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA); this was the first time the major football helmet manufacturers joined forces to benefit the entire industry. Stadia Ventures acts as a major connector within the world of sports technology and innovation. We connect over 500 sports industry executives with the best of 400 sports startups every year. As a founder of Stadia Ventures I understand the value of these relationships and work hard to support them.
- Strategic, forward thinking — A main value of thought leadership is to use the past to help predict the future. This requires the interest and ability to take past experience and draw strategic paths for the future. A thought leader should be involved in activities that require this activity. For the past few years I have helped shepherd Rapsodo from a startup to one of the leaders in baseball data. Our competitive advantage is speed of innovation that requires a constant strategic assessment of where the market and industry are going. Stadia Ventures manages an early venture fund that invests in sports tech startups. This is the epitome of putting our money where our mouths are regarding our ability to be strategic, forward thinkers.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight. He has taken his statistical knowledge and insights and influenced two major (and different) sectors, baseball and elections. I appreciate his ability to present relatively detailed analysis in terms the average person can understand. All while basing everything on facts. His insight is must-read in two very different industries but based on the same fundamentals of sound insight that is not available elsewhere.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is you’re feeling about this?
I believe that this is a term that is best used as a description of others as opposed to a title that you bestow on yourself. Earned, never claimed. I believe that it is appropriate when used as a descriptive as opposed to an honorific.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Always be learning. You must take the attitude that your future success revolves around your ability to learn new things (sectors, strategies, technologies) as opposed to relying on your past knowledge. Plus, nothing gets you going like having to solve a problem that you’ve never solved before; keeps you fresh.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Something along the lines of a National Empathy project. Especially in the US, people need to be exposed to others outside of their existing socioeconomic circles; maybe some sort of required service program for young people so they can get firsthand experience of the diversity our population offers. Empathy is built naturally through personal experience. This works internationally, as well. We need to make it more feasible for everyone to travel more; I believe we would fight less.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I got this from Kevin Plank of UnderArmour and immediately appreciated the simplicity. I have always believed more in the power of people as opposed to the system. Given the choice, I will always choose great people, even if I have to change the system to meet their strengths, as opposed to a great system that requires certain types of people.
This was reinforced during my ten years at Rawlings. A great traditional brand with a well-tested system. I ran the product side of the business and clashed frequently with the head of operations who constantly preached that individuals need to subjugate their abilities to fit within the system. Perhaps a larger, more traditional company like Rawlings is only capable of operating this way but I believed that this would limit our growth potential. When it became clear that I was not going to be able to influence this type of movement it was time for me to leave.
Fast forward to my current position at Rapsodo, where we are forced to be incredibly innovative in order to compete. (In sports analogies, startups are forced to be all offense while industry leaders generally just play defense). We have a very flat organization that focuses on (1) hiring our “type” of person (smart, fast, collaborative); (2) making sure they understand our strategy and style of operating; and (3) giving them the freedom to make decisions that they believe help the company. We make decisions quickly; when they don’t work out we learn quickly and then move on. We believe that our culture will help us compete and win regardless of the strategy.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Barack Obama — not only because of his overall experience as a leader but, in general, I appreciate intelligent people who are relatable (politics aside, I find him to be both of these)
In addition, I am fascinated by the creative process and how some of the great creative leaders accomplish their art. Especially those projects that require a larger group of people as opposed to one individual’s creative genius. How did Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger create such incredible music with a group of people for such an extended period of time? How does Steven Spielberg create a Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List? Is it all planned out or is most of it done on the fly? Or do you just take a ton of footage and edit to greatness? I would enjoy this conversation.
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